Many fish change sex during adulthood due to changes in their social environment. Typically, the absence of a dominant male triggers sex change in the dominant female. How male absence initiates such a striking transformation is as mysterious as it is extraordinary. Social position is clearly important, but the behavioural and other cues a female employs to determine her position in the hierarchy and how that influences her decision to change sex or defer to others remain unknown.
We hypothesise that cellular and molecular features delineate high-ranked females predisposed to change sex from their peers and are involved in priming or influencing the molecular and neural systems that go on to initiate sex change.
Here, using an elegant and powerful combination of behavioural assays, social induction of sex-change, and leading-edge approaches in neuroscience and genomics, we will obtain unprecedented insight into the determinants of female social hierarchies. Using the ubiquitous NZ spotty, we will determine those traits and cues that are used to establish these hierarchies, reveal how an individual’s position in its social hierarchy impacts upon its capacity to change sex and decipher the behavioural cues and molecular events that precede and encompass the initiation of socially regulated sex change.
Currently involved in this project are Postdoctoral Fellows Dr. Chloé van der Burg and Dr. Kaj Kamstra, and also newly arrived PhD student Haylee Quertermous.
Dr. Culum Brown (Macquarie University)
Dr. Erica Todd (Deakin University)
Dr. Simon Muncaster (University of Waikato)
Prof. Christine Jasoni (University of Otago)